The Lack of Empathy in Self-Help Gurus


“Find your real authentic you!”

“Build your confidence!”

“Create your meaning!”

You’ve must have heard this before, right? It’s usually said by someone who is seemingly popular, successful, and has a magnetic voice or charm. Usually who are pegging life changing techniques, ideas, groups, websites, or books. Have you noticed they are everywhere?

I think I started noticing when I began to look for guests for Modern Manhood, I submitted my podcast to a site that would try to find guests for me by the guest’s interests. They would post my podcast, and people would submit a form to see if they could be a guest. Lo and behold, the people who looked at my podcast and thought “This would be up my alley” were most likely of the self-help type. Self-proclaimed leaders. I think they saw the word “Manhood” in the title and assumed I was one of those many podcasts that claim to create the “best version of manhood for you.” You know, by exerting ideas that were popular back when Teddy Roosevelt was president. And to them, I have for the most part said “no, thank you.” I don’t need self-help gurus on my podcast.

There’s a fair share of people on the internet and beyond, who are telling you how to live. Think of the Jordan Peterson’s, the Gary Vaynerchuk’s, and the Tim Ferriss’ and I find this trend to be kind of troubling. Not to say I wasn’t a person that didn’t get caught up in that before. I definitely have read self-help books, and read so called coaches’ blog posts and what not. It happened mostly though when I was at my lowest and I felt like I needed a quick hit of something inspirational. Mostly the guy I went to was Mark Manson and I liked his realistic approach. His book ‘Models’ I felt really helped me out. But the funny thing is that I re-read it today when I feel like I have a little control in my life, and I found it to be, weirdly problematic. Not racist, or sexist (well a little sexist), or classist or whatever, just kind of ignorant.

Ignorant in how people in general perceive the world around them. We are shaped by our experiences, our past, our world, our parents, our relationships, our past loves, our mistakes, and our triumphs. Personally, someone telling you advice in a void, without knowing your path, I found to be extremely non-empathetic. Who are they to try to fix your life without even knowing who you are?

Who are they to try to fix your life without even knowing who you are?

I recently read a quote about empathy that really hit home for me, more so than the wonderful description by Brene Brown, that empathy has two parts. Firstly, try to feel what others are feelings. But most importantly, step away from your own experiences on how you would deal with that person’s situation. That second part is the hardest! And no one telling you to be “your most authentic self” in a video, or a book, or a podcast has an idea of what you have come through to be where you are.

Empathy is a skill that needs to be worked on, like any skill it needs practice and proper training. I’m not finding empathy any more in these guys.

This is very problematic because now we’re asking people with little or no experience in subject matter to teach you on some of the most important questions a human can have: “Who am I?” “What is my purpose in life?” “What values do I have?” But not only those biggies, they for the most part have no problem wading into issues of culture and identity, and mostly because they feel like they could answer that from their own experience. Now, that’s not to say that whatever they have to say is worthless, it might be effective is some cases. But they are usually not quick to mention that they had a path to follow and sometimes luck and privilege goes into play.

This is very problematic because now we’re asking people with little or no experience in subject matter to teach you on some of the most important questions a human can have: “Who am I?” “What is my purpose in life?” “What values do I have?”

I am personally more drawn to people who are more quickly to say “I don’t know, I don’t know the answer to that question, and frankly I am not the best person to ask that.” This to me is vulnerability at it’s finest.

I was listening to Ta-Nehesi Coates, a prominent writer on race and blackness, on an interview when the interviewer asked him about activism in America. Coates quickly shut that down to say “Listen, I’m not an activist, you should ask them.” He gave his opinion, but only as a writer which he mentioned again and again. To me, that’s a person I can trust. That’s a person I am willing to listen to. Coates showed he had the strength not to venture into areas where he didn’t feel prepared to go to.

Some of the best pieces of self-help books that I have read come from a vulnerable empathetic form of view, I can think of Tiny Beautiful Things, which I have read parts of which I found incredibly moving. I found it in the articles of writers that I loved, who mention their own background and experiences are not yours and will never be.

I am finding less and less of these types of men in the world, especially in the so-called self-help, inspirational, life guru roles. Ones so quickly to give advice on YouTube. Giving answers to questions that are not asked. I am also finding that usually these people don’t stay in their lane, and it rubs me the wrong way. That’s why I am generally less excited when I have a self-proclaimed life coach advice giver that wants to be on my show. I would rather have people who are experts in their own passion, or men who are not totally comfortable in what they know because it shows the vulnerability that people (especially men) lack. I love when people struggle with answers because it means they care, I love it when people say “I don’t know, I don’t know if I can give out that advice.” Give me those guys instead, they inspire me to better, to be more honest, to be more vulnerable, to be more courageous.

People for the most part love the self-help stuff, it’s a lucrative venture, ask Tony Robbins. But I think it’s harder to say “I don’t know,” I also think it’s harder to hear that from someone else.

It’s also curious to me that for most part, self-help books are written by guys. I believe it sort of feeds into this version of masculinity that men are eager to dole out advice, because they would want that for themselves. Maybe? I don’t know, I’m not a socialogist. If there’s one out there willing to research that, give me a shout.

I do believe it may have something to do with a social gender narrative.

Now, I know what you may be thinking, I ask my guests to give out advice to other men all the time. But I think when I ask them, they kind of give me a more honest version of what they have filtered through their head. Their answers never feel scripted, or feel like they have been said 100 times before, they feel real. And realness is all that I ask.

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